Accessible Published by De Gruyter March 15, 2019

Carole Hough (ed.). 2016. With assistance from Daria Izdebska. The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming. Oxford: Oxford University Press, xxiii + 771 pp., 32 figures, £ 95.00.

John Insley
From the journal Anglia

This handbook, consisting of 47 chapters organized in seven parts, which are preceded by a list of contributors (xvii-xxiii) and a useful introduction by the editor (1–13), is a collective work with contributions by some 43 authors. It is opened by a theoretical section, “Onomastic Theory”, consisting of three papers, namely, those of Willy Van Langendonck and Mark Van De Velde on names and grammar (17–38), Staffan Nyström on names and meaning (39–51), and Elwys De Stefani on names and discourse (52–66). Nyström is rightly critical of the thesis that names are ‘meaninglessʼ. According to this view, when lexical items become names, their semantic content, even if it is readily transparent, is lost and the resulting name is merely referential. For Nyström, meaning cannot be ignored in name formation, though there are degrees of meaningfulness. He examines the concepts of denotation and connotation. The latter is especially important. For example, Verdun has not only the referential function of denoting the place in eastern France, but also has the connotation of the battle which took place there in 1916. Nyström distinguishes the proprial meaning (i. e. the mental onomasticon) from the lexical meaning, but shows that the two interact. As he indicates, however, there is a difference between names like Blackburn (Lancashire) ‘dark bourne, stream’ < OE blæc + OE burna, which are formally and semantically transparent, and those like Cholmondeley /tʃʌmlɪ/ in Cheshire, ‘Ceolmund’s forest clearing’, which are not, though in the former case we should not ignore the effects of dissociation.

The second part, on “Toponomastics”, consists of eight articles and is opened by Simon Taylor on the methodologies of place-name research (69–86). Taylor’s observations reflect his experience in the recently established Survey of Scottish Place-Names and are based on material from the Scottish counties of Fife, Kinross-shire and Clackmannanshire. Most appositely, Taylor illustrates his discussion with sample names. Particularly important is his account of the complex nature of written and oral sources which has a general methodological relevance extending far beyond the immediate Scottish context.

Taylor’s paper is followed by Carole Hough’s “Settlement Namesˮ (87–103), an admirably concise survey liberally illustrated with maps. Hough discusses the chronology of settlement names in England and Scotland. She also examines (92) commemorative names in the USA and in the British Empire and its Dominions, such as Adelaide (Australia, South Africa), named after Adelheid of Saxe-Meiningen, consort of William IV. We also have cases of renaming as expressions of totalitarian hegemony. We can mention the numerous towns and cities in the former Soviet Union named after Lenin and Stalin and a host of lesser Communist functionaries, such as Sverdlov, Frunze, Kalinin, Molotov and Voroshilov. Such names seldom outlive the regimes that created them. For example, in 1949, the town of Zlín in Moravia was renamed Gottwaldov after the head of the Czech Communist regime, Klement Gottwald, but reverted to its old name in 1990 after the overthrow of that regime. Hough’s observation (90) that descriptive names of the type represented by English Newton, Danish Nyby, Russian Novgorod are highly repetitive, both within and across linguistic boundaries, is as apt as it is obvious. It could be extended by drawing attention to the parallel use of cognates as toponymic elements in various Indo-European dialects. So, for example, the use of Germanic *haima- ‘village, settlementʼ (OE hām) and *lauha- ‘clearingʼ (OE lēah) as place-name elements has an exact parallel in Baltic in the form of Old Prussian cognates kaimis ‘villageʼ and lauks ‘field, open landʼ, which were used to form place-names in East Prussia.

Svante Strandberg’s “River Namesˮ (104–114) is an eminently useful and stringently written survey of great clarity utilizing material from the British Isles, Scandinavia and Continental Europe. Strandberg begins by pointing out the great antiquity of river names and their value as evidence for earlier stages of linguistic evolution. He discusses questions of terminology, especially in the context of morphological structures and semantic categories. There is a concise examination of chronology and stratification. Strandberg provides a clear and critical account of Hans Krahe’s alteuropäische [i. e. Proto Indo-European] Hydronymie with examples and bibliography (107–109). Following Krahe, Strandberg shows that certain Indo-European ‘water rootsʼ have a wide geographical distribution, for example, the root *ṷeis-, *ṷis- ‘flowʼ in the river names Wyre (in Lancashire), Vesdre (in Belgium), Weser, Werra and Vistula (Polish Wisła). It should be noted that Theo Vennemann (e. g. 2003) has questioned the Indo-European character of the alteuropäische Hydronymie and prefers to regard this category of names as ‘Vasconicʼ. It is a pity that Strandberg does not seek to take issue with Vennemann’s theories.

Strandberg’s contribution is followed by essays on hill and mountain names (Peter Drummond, 115–124), island names (Peder Gammeltoft, 125–134) and ‘rural namesʼ (Julia Kuhn, 135–143). This last category largely corresponds to the ‘field and minor namesʼ of English Place-Name Society usage. In this context, Kuhn’s dictum that “rural names are the names of uninhabited objects in rural settings and surroundings” (135) is too categorical, since the distinction between habitational and non-habitational names is sometimes ambiguous. A form like [on] ordulfes ʒemære ‘[at] Ordulf’s boundaryʼ in the bounds of Denchworth in Berkshire in S 529, a charter of 947, is undoubtedly a minor name denoting a landmark, but the genitival personal name signifies possession and, by implication, some kind of occupation. The author cites much material from Romance, Slavonic and German, but has seen fit to largely ignore the English material – two forms from the Isle of Man (134) are neither adequate nor representative. This part is concluded by Bertie Neethling on street names (144–157) and Stefan Brink on transferred names and analogy in name-formation (158–166). Neethling investigates the symbolic value of street names through commemoration in the context of the changes which have taken place in street names in South Africa since the end of apartheid. As we would expect, names commemorating such symbols of Afrikanerdom as D. F. Malan and Hendrik Verwoerd have given way to the names of leading opponents of the apartheid regime.

The third part of the book, “Anthroponomastics”, begins with a section on personal naming systems introduced by Edwin D. Lawson and consisting of several brief studies on various personal name systems (169–198). Whereas the sections on Dutch (Willy Van Langendonck, 172–174) and German (Rosa and Volker Kohlheim, 176–177) include an historical perspective, as indeed does that of Cleveland K. Evans on American names (188–189), that of Ellen Bramwell on names in the UK is less satisfactory, since its sole historical allusion is to the development of surnames.

The historical context of the development of personal name systems is dealt with more convincingly in Katharina Leibring’s “Given Names in European Naming Systems” (199–213). She begins by defining the term ‘given name’ and by drawing attention to semantic parallels in the choice of name elements within the Indo-European linguistic family (199–200). Leibring draws attention to the role of scribal forms as opposed to spoken varieties in the transmission of personal names (201). In this context, we could cite such stereotype Latin forms as Amalricus and Radulfus for OFr Amauri and OFr Ra(o)ul, respectively. The role of the conversion to Christianity and later that of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in altering European onomastic systems are quite rightly stressed (203–207). The author illustrates her essay with appropriate examples. These are mostly drawn from Scandinavia, but have a relevance beyond the merely regional. Interestingly, she mentions the Anglo-American practice of using surnames to form given names (207). Examples are the masculine Stanley and Sidney, the androgynous Ashley and the feminine Kimberley and Beverley. A further innovation indicated by Leibring (208–210) is the revival of ancient names of Indo-European type in Scandinavia and in eastern Europe in the nineteenth century (e. g., Norwegian Aslak, Serbo-Croat Dragoljub) in connection with antiquarianism and nationalism. Leibring closes her excellent survey with a sketch of the contemporary situation and a brief bibliography.

The Scandinavian tradition of onomastic research is also represented in this part by the late Eva Brylla’s essay on bynames and nicknames (237–250). Concentrating on Scandinavian, English and German material, she begins her survey by discussing terminological questions. For her, the term ‘byname’ denotes a general inclusive category, with ‘nickname’ denoting a subcategory corresponding to German Übername. There are some difficulties here and it is best to regard bynames and nicknames as distinct categories. She maintains (241) that there are no clear boundaries between bynames and given names and draws attention to Scandinavian names like Ulf ‘wolf’ and Björn ‘bear’, which are best defined as ‘original bynames’. In Old English, the type is represented by Ċeorl < OE ċeorl ‘peasant freeman’ or Wada, nomen agentis from OE wadan ‘to go, advance’, and the like. There are ambiguities, however. For example, OE Dene can be an original byname belonging to the ethnonym ‘Dane’, but it may equally well be interpreted as a bypocoristic form of dithematic names in Dene-, such as OE Deneberht or Denewulf. Brylla also examines the semantic and morphological categories involved in byname formation in some detail and supports her account with numerous examples. Her inclusion of hypocoristic forms, e. g., English Bill < William or German Klausi, Kläuschen < Klaus in the present discussion is not without difficulties. It is true that such forms are substituted for the baptismal name, but I would dispute their byname status, since de facto they have the properties of given names. Equally, the original byname type loses its byname status the moment it acquires the status of a given name.

Perhaps the most important contribution in Part III is that of Patrick Hanks and Harry Parkin, “Family Names” (214–236). Here, a concise and tightly constructed historical survey of the development of surnames in the United Kingdom and Ireland is followed by an admirable critical bibliography of surnames in the British Isles, Europe and Asia. Quite correctly, the authors point out the necessity of considering local historical and socio-biographical factors as well as the strictly philological. The importance of socio-biographical aspects is made clear by George Redmonds in his article on personal names and genealogy (279–291). The rest of the section consists of Adrian Koopman on ethnonyms (251–262) and Ellen S. Bramwell on personal names and anthropology (263–278).

The fourth part of this handbook deals with “Literary Onomastics” and is opened by Grant W. Smith’s essay on the theoretical foundations of literary onomastics (295–309). Smith observes three major differences between names as a part of general linguistic usage and names in imaginative literature. These are: (1) Names in imaginative literature are subject to fewer restraints and are more open to imaginative processes; (2) The interpretative associations of names can be manipulated by authors; (3) There is a greater frequency and extent to which names can be interpreted symbolically. I would argue that we also have to operate with degrees of congruence and incongruence in the onomastic usage of literary works. For example, Hardy’s Casterbridge is perfectly congruent as an English place-name, but it is incongruous in his Wessex, because initial Caster- (for OE [Anglian] cæster ‘walled town’) is rather characteristic of the North and north-east Midlands. The next essay, Bertie Neethling’s “Names in Songs: A comparative Analysis of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire and Christopher Torr’s Hot Gatesˮ (310–329) illustrates the associative and symbolic role of names as text, especially those names which are historically or politically loaded.

Inevitably, in keeping with modern directions of study and research, we have essays on genre-based approaches to names in literature (Birgit Falck-Kjällquist, 330–343) and on corpus-based approaches to names in literature (Karina van Dalen-Oskam, 344–354). More satisfying from a philological and literary point of view is the concluding essay in this part, Paul Cavill’s “Language-based Approaches to Names in Literature” (355–367). Cavill’s survey covers the historical phases of English literature from Old English to modern times. The author is aware of the theoretical and methodological issues involved in the context of names and the literary imagination. In accordance with a framework established by Ernst Robert Curtius, he categorizes names in literature as either ‘Cratyllicʼ, that is, having sense and significance, or as ‘Hermogeneanʼ, that is, having a semantically empty function as a mark of identification.

Part V, “Socio-onomastics”, is perhaps the least satisfactory part of the handbook. The opening paper, Terhi Ainiala’s “Names in Society” (371–381) is useful enough as a statement of general principles, but its focus on Finnish examples limits its value for the Anglophone user. Emilia Aldrin’s “Names and Identity” (382–394) begins with a longish discussion about the concept of identity. Her observation that there is no coherent onomastic theory of the relationship between name and identity (385) indicates the theoretical and conceptual difficulties involved in bringing naming (and attitudes to naming) and identity into a cohesive framework. Given the range of variables involved, this is hardly surprising. The third article in this part is Guy Puzey’s “Linguistic Landscapes” (395–411). The concept of linguistic landscape covers questions of language visibility and the interaction between different languages in public spaces. Multilingualism and semiotics are crucial points, and we can regard road signs, advertising, place-names, street names and the names of public buildings as elements in the theory. There are real difficulties of terminology, though Puzey goes on to propose a concept of “linguistic visibility” (397). The general terminological vagueness is irritating, and this is a real difficulty which cannot be played down by the observation that the approach “is still in an emergent phase” (398). The idea of the linguistic landscape is intimately linked to political questions of language policy and, as Puzey indicates, the presence or absence of multilingual road signs designating place-names in areas of linguistic diversity has all manner of social and political implications. The next essay, Laura Kostanski’s “Toponymic Attachment” (412–426) concerns itself with the negative or positive associations evoked by certain toponyms in individuals or groups. Here we are moving away from onomastics proper into the realm of psycholinguistics. Similarly, the contribution of Irma Taavitsainen and Andreas H. Jucker, “Forms of Address” (427–437), is, at best, only of peripheral importance for the study of names and belongs rather to the field of pragmatics. Katarzyna Aleksiejuk’s essay on pseudonyms (438–452) is a wide-ranging survey which gives due attention to questions of definition and to the history of research into pseudonyms. My only criticism is that more weight should have been given to the political use of pseudonyms. The last paper in this part, Paula Sjöblom’s account of commercial names (453–464) has useful discussions of previous work and typology, but suffers from a relative paucity of examples.

The sixth part of the work under review consists of ten essays on “Onomastics and Other Disciplines”. Since names are essentially linguistic artefacts with historical contexts, they should be examined primarily within these parameters. As a result, two of the essays, that of Serge Brédart on names and cognitive psychology (476–487) and that of Andreas Teutsch on names and law (554–571), are of relatively marginal importance. The first article in the section is that of Richard Jones on names (or, more precisely, place-names) and archaeology (467–475). The relationship between place-name scholars and archaeologists has not been free of difficulties over questions of interpretation, and there is open criticism in Jonesʼs observation that traditionally place-name scholars have seen points of contact only in selected areas such as the relationship of certain place-name types to Roman sites or to Anglo-Saxon burials. In keeping with recent trends in archaeological thought, Jones would extend the terms of reference to include landscape, cultural environment and land use. This is no doubt legitimate, but archaeologists should not forget that place-name etymologies and typologies are primarily defined within closely set linguistic boundaries. Perhaps more to the point is Peder Gammeltoft’s essay on (place-)names and geography (502–512), which shows that geography and place-name creation are intimately connected. Topographical generics, such as ‑wood < OE ‑wudu ʽwoodlandʼ, give us an idea of the geographical realities obtaining when the names were created, even though the features in question have mostly disappeared as a result of clearing and urbanization. Gammeltoft realizes that there are some types of place-name which cannot indicate geographical conditions. These are suffix formations or names expressing ownership, seignorial control or status. The author illustrates this by citing the German place-name Hadmersleben (Sachsen-Anhalt) ‘Hathumêr’s inherited estate’ (504).

Gammeltoft’s paper is followed by Gillian Fellows-Jensen’s “Names and History” (513–524), an excellent account of English place-names in a historical context stretching from the Modern period right back to that of early Indo-European river names. The essentials of the historical development of the most important types of settlement name are sketched with admirable clarity, though it is unfortunate that there is no discussion of heathen place-names, given that these have obvious parallels in Scandinavia and on the Continent. It is also surprising that there is no mention of names with seignorial affixes, e. g., Higham Ferrers (whose affix is the name of the baronial family of Ferrers, originally from Ferrières-Saint-Hilaire [dép. Eure]), since this type is not infrequent and has significant historical implications.

The strictly linguistic section of Part VI begins with Margaret Scott’s “Names and Dialectology” (488–501), a somewhat frustrating contribution in that it largely fails to get to grips with the question of regional variation. She begins with a meandering discussion of the distinctions between standard and substandard varieties. To some extent, this is beside the point, since historic onomastic structures are by their very nature regionalized. Here I could cite the distribution of the various English words for ‘streamʼ (brook < OE brōc, bourn < OE burna and beck < ON bekkr). The onomastic reflexes of phonological isoglosses are hardly touched upon. Her only example is the strǣt/strēt line (Saxon /æ:/, Anglian, Kentish /e:/ < North-West Germanic /ɑ:/). Some discussion of the use of onomastic evidence for the delineation of such features as the boundary between Northern ME /a:/ and Southumbrian ME /ɔ:/ < OE /ɑ:/ or that between the various Middle English reflexes of OE /y/ would have been useful. That such boundaries are gradual and involve overlapping can be shown by the use of field name evidence. This is especially apposite in areas like central Lancashire, where several dialect isoglosses converge. Scott gives some consideration to Wilhelm Nicolaisen’s theory of ‘onomastic dialectsʼ and my application of such a categorization to early Germanic personal names, but this really is a separate issue distinct from the concerns of dialectology proper.

A much more useful account of the linguistic context of onomastic material is provided by Richard Coates in his “Names and Historical Linguistics” (525–539). Coates points out the correlation between the linguistic properties of names and those of the general vocabulary, but, as he indeed realizes, there are important differences. Sometimes, names undergo phonological changes not found generally. Following Fran Colman, Coates (527) cites the fact that the expected West Saxon reflex of Germanic *Alƀi-, *Ielf-, does not occur independently, but is rendered by Ælf-. This is not a case of phonological anomaly in West Saxon, but is simply the result of the adoption of the normal Anglian form Ælf- in West Saxon. A better example would be the late Old English change of Æðel- > Æġel- (ME Ail-, Ayl-). Ultimately, names have lexical bases, but are subject to processes of semantic bleaching and to dissociation induced by lexical loss and phonological change. Coates (533) makes the pertinent point that “any apparent sense in names is not really sense but (correct or incorrect) etymological understanding, which is not the same”. He (528–529) draws attention to the value of place-names as evidence for languages no longer spoken in the region in question. We can also use personal names for this. For example, the personal name Teudila is found in 10th- and 11th-century Spanish sources (Piel and Kremer 1976: 266). Etymologically and morphologically, this name is Gothic, being a reflex of Gothic *Þiudila, a hypocoristic form of names in Þiuda-. In the Spanish of the tenth and eleventh centuries, the name has no semantic content and its Germanic diminutive suffix ‑ila had no morphological content. The Romance character of its linguistic environment is made clear by the replacement of Germanic initial [θ] by Romance [t]. The next essay in the volume is that of Berit Sandnes on names and language contact (540–553). She duly considers the different types of interference or contamination which are manifested in place-names in areas where two or more languages come into contact (phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and lexical). It is a pity that she restricts herself to place-names, for we find similar phenomena in personal names, e. g. in Anglo-Scandinavian Ōsketel < ON Ásketill and Þurʒār < ON Þorgeirr, in which the Old English elements Ōs- and ‑gār have been substituted for the etymologically identical Scandinavian elements Ás- and ‑geirr, respectively.

Alison Grant’s “Names and Lexicography” (572–584) is thoroughly conventional, but provides a good deal of relevant material from Scots as well as from English. Her observation that toponymic material and medieval occupational bynames provide a useful means of ante-dating items in the normal lexicon is one that has often been made. She is on more sticky ground with her examination of toponymical evidence for otherwise unattested Old and Middle English vocabulary (578–579). Here, she is a trifle too ready to accept the opinions of previous writers without subjecting them to critical scrutiny. So, she follows Carole Hough in interpreting OE pohha/pocca (in the place-name Poughley Farm [Berkshire]) as ‘fallow deerʼ and in taking OE wearʒ in place-names to have the sense ‘wolfʼ. In fact, there is no reason to reject the traditional interpretation of OE pohha/pocca ‘bagʼ as an element used in a topographical sense in place-names, whilst Germanic *warʒ-az, like its Old English reflex wearʒ, has the sense ‘felon, outlawʼ, the meaning ‘wolfʼ being secondary and confined to Old Norse. As regards anthroponymy, the usefulness of Middle English occupational bynames and nicknames as lexicographical sources is clear, but the connection of early Germanic personal names with the vocabulary of the poetic language is also worthy of mention. The section is closed by Kay Muhr’s case study of place-names in early Christian Ireland as paradigmatic for theophoric nomenclature (585–602).

The final part of the book (603–660) is a miscellany subsumed under the title “Other Types of Names” and consisting of essays on aircraft names (Guy Puzey), animal names (Katharina Leibring), astronomical names (Marc Alexander), names of dwellings (Adrian Koopman), railway locomotive and train names (Richard Coates) and ship names (Malcolm Jones). These categories all have particular features calling for more than superficial treatment. Some of the essays are well thought out and show the potential insights which can be obtained through the study of such names. For example, Coates, who wisely limits his survey (645–654) to British steam locomotives and trains, shows what can be done in terms of the linguistic ordering of such names and Jones (655–660) provides an admirably concise historical survey of ship names. Puzey’s essay on aircraft names (605–614) provides a most useful historical survey of British military aircraft nomenclature. His short account of American nomenclature is less satisfactory, since the historical element is missing. It should be remarked that the Anglo-American usage of assigning names to aircraft types contrasts with other systems, such as that preferred by the Soviets, in which an abbreviation designating the design bureau, manufacturer or category of aircraft is combined with a type number.

The volume is closed by a bibliography (661–756), a subject index which could have been more comprehensive (757–767) and an index of languages (769–771). All in all, the volume is a judicious synthesis covering a wide range of onomastic areas and it goes well beyond the historic-philological approach of traditional onomastic studies. Professor Hough is to be congratulated for having assembled a team of experts to produce a work of reference which will be most useful to professional onomasts and non-specialists alike.

Works Cited

Piel, Joseph M. and Dieter Kremer. 1976.Hispano-gotisches Namenbuch. Der Niederschlag des Westgotischen in den alten und heutigen Personen- und Ortsnamen der Iberischen Halbinsel. Heidelberg: Winter. Search in Google Scholar

S = Sawyer, P. H. 1968.Anglo-Saxon Charters. An Annotated List and Bibliography. Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 8. London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society. The Electronic Sawyer (2016): <>. Search in Google Scholar

Vennemann, Theo. 2003. ‟Zur Frage der vorindogermanischen Substrate in Mittel- und Westeuropa”. In: Theo Vennemann gen. Nierfeld. Europa Vasconica – Europa Semitica, ed. Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 517–590. Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2019-03-15
Published in Print: 2019-03-14

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